According to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers.

The UCLA researchers studied two groups of sixth-graders from a Southern California public school. One group was sent to the Pali Institute, an outdoor education camp in Running Springs, California, where the kids had no access to electronic devices. It was life as usual for the other group.

At the beginning and end of the five-day study period, both groups of kids were shown images of nearly 50 faces and asked to identify the feelings being modeled. Researchers found that the students who went to camp scored significantly higher when it came to reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students who continued to have access to their media devices.

“We were pleased to get an effect after five days,” says Patricia Greenfield, a senior author of the study and a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA. “We found that the kids who had been to camp without any screens but with lots of those opportunities and necessities for interacting with other people in person improved significantly more.”

If the study were to be expanded, Greenfield says, she’d like to test the students at camp a third time — when they’ve been back at home with smartphones and tablets in their hands for five days. “It might mean they would lose those skills if they weren’t maintaining continual face-to-face interaction,” she says.

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

For decades the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has warned that children need to cut back on their screen time. The group’s latest prescription is that entertainment “screen time” should be limited to two hours a day for children ages 3-18 and those 2 years old and younger should not have any at all.

The sixth-graders who made up the sample in the UCLA study reported that they spent an average of more than four hours on a typical schools day on their phones, watching television and playing video games.

Some research suggest that screen time has a lot of negative effects on kids, ranging from childhood obesity and irregular sleep patterns to social and/or behavioral issues.

Greenfield states, “We really need to be sure that children, and probably older people, are getting enough face-to-face interaction to be competent social beings. Our species evolved in an environment where there was only face-to-face interaction. Since we were adapted to that environment, it’s likely that our skills depend on that environment. If we reduce face-to-face interaction drastically, it’s not surprising that the social skills would also get reduced.”

How To Limit Children’s Screen Time?

Naturally, as media increases, it becomes more and more difficult to manage kids’ screen time. Where several decades ago, television was the only tech distraction, kids now have smartphones, tablets, laptops and electronic games.

Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and spokeswoman for the AAP, says, “If used appropriately, it’s wonderful. We don’t want to demonize media because it’s going to be a part of everybody’s lives increasingly and we have to teach children how to make good choices around it, how to limit it and how to make sure it’s not going to take the place of all the other good stuff out there.” She continues by explaining, “We need to make media a part of our lives, but in a planned, sensible way.”

Her suggestion is that families should encourage a “healthy media diet” for their children. Parents and kids should work together to decide how much time to spend with media every day and to make sure good choices are being made about what media to take in.

 

Article from NPR. Read the full article.

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